Brian Coppa’s recent blog about silicon-carbide (SiC) usage, SiC Power Inversion Chips for PV & EVs, brought to mind the cyclic nature of technology that has come and gone and come back. Here are a few examples.
Electric cars: The electric car has come and gone numerous times over the years. A quick search shows that they initially came out in 1834 in Europe. There was a revival in 1895 in Iowa, followed by a few models in the early 20th century. Through most of the rest of the 20th century, not much work was done except for some highly specialized vehicles.
One of the most highly specialized was the lunar rover, put on the moon as an electric vehicle (ca. 1970, multiple moon missions). Then, back on Earth, we had the big push from the late 1990s to the present. With each new revival, improvements were added using the latest technology. The current push is now using modern electronics that range from battery equalizing charging circuits to SiC transistors and diodes to improve the efficiencies. The biggest challenge for electric cars is just the energy storage capacity and recharge times — gasoline still contains the highest energy density, and it refills the tank in a few minutes. I still expect to see electric car improvements.
Tablet PCs: Tablet PCs first came out back around 2002. I remember the Compaq flip-tablet for the notebook computer. The technology for the processing power was not that good, and the tablet PC died around 2005. But now, with newer processor performance, tablet PCs are on the rise, and there is talk about the traditional desktop computer (and perhaps the notebook) dying.
Solar power for electricity generation: Solar power has had its commercial death cycle, primarily due to the low efficiency and cost factors of the photo-voltaic arrays (PVAs). With the space program pushing for better performance in its downtime, the newer technology with better silicon processing has raised the PVA efficiency to a point to make solar power a commercially viable product. Recent articles I've seen call out PVA efficiency in the mid 40 percent range, though with a high cost, as you would expect from space program-derived products. Compare this to today’s commercial-grade PVA efficiency in the upper teens.
Germanium transistors: These were quickly phased out and replaced by silicon. Yet now germanium is making a comeback as an additive for improved performance for both the LED and transistor markets. Advances in technology, manufacturing, and so forth, have put germanium back on track as being useful in semiconductor fabrication.
SiC: Here is another technology that has come back into the light. Again, the manufacturing improvements allowed this technology to excel, and people are finding use in high-speed, high-voltage, and high-temperature applications.
As time passes, the combining of technology from one field with that from another provides new leaps in product performance such as combining the newer PVAs with SiC-based inverters. This will result in more PV systems being installed on commercial facilities and homes.
Do not be concerned if a product dies when it first comes out. Sometimes, products are ahead of their time. With technological advances, products could come back with a price-performance ratio that would make them the next big thing. What products do you know of that fit this category?